Nicole Williams, author of Girl on Top, offers career advice in the language of a dating book.
Nicole Williams is obsessed with jobs. Not just her own-as an author, public speaker and career strategist-but yours too. With her newest title, Girl on Top, Williams is looking to connect with young women searching for their dream jobs, angling for a raise or steadily making their way up the ladder. All in a language that hits home: dating.
Think of it as The Rules for career success.
The intersection of love and career run throughout this collection of 20 tenets, spanning from "follow your heart" (love your career) and "keep the fire alive" (maintain the "heat" in your professional relationships) to "don't waste the pretty" (nix the job with nothing to offer and where you're not appreciated).
Another classic, "don't give the milk away for free," is something your mother might have warned you during a chat about having sex before commitment. Williams chastises professional women everywhere for doing just that: giving our talent and ideas away without negotiating a fair price, and then wondering why we're undervalued in the workplace.
Her message has seen some very real success. The membership of her online community, Works by Nicole Williams has swelled to 800,000, and a scripted series based on Girl On Top is in development with Warner Brothers.
Williams sat down with ForbesWoman to talk about how her real-world experiences spurred her to become a trusted advisor to "fellow working girls" and the author of her own success.
ForbesWoman: Why did you become a career expert and advisor?
Nicole Williams: "It all stems back to the fact that my mom worked in a paint factory when I was a little girl, and the degree to which that affected all aspects of our family life. I consider myself a career expert by virtue of watching how unhappy my mother was. Mainly because I was scared that I'd end up living my mother's life, I became obsessed with the idea of career. It was so frightening that I might end up not having choices or to just be stuck somewhere and unhappy.
Girl on Top reads like a dating book but it's actually about careers. How did the idea come about?
"I was just coming off my divorce and was in a major funk. I don't think I'd left my bed for about six months. One day a friend came over and she said, 'enough!' She brought me this basket full of spa gift certificates, candies and a selection of dating books, including The Rules and He's Just Not That Into You.
"I hadn't read a dating book in a long time, but I opened up The Rules and I thought, "This is career genius!" I read He's Just Not That Into You, where it talks about all of these very specific signs that a guy's just not that into you, and I thought, "oh my god, these are the same signs when a boss isn't into you, or that your job's not right." It was the first time after my divorce that I felt my heart beating again.
So managing your career is like dating?
"The same way you don't want to waste your time in a bad relationship, you don't want to waste your time in a career working for someone who doesn't invest in you, care about you, respect you or give you anything back.
Dating guides are usually written from the point of view of someone who's mastered the dating scene. Have you held many jobs?
"Not really, but I did realise early on that I could use my own career as research. What works best in an interview? How do you negotiate a six-figure salary? What's the over-ask and what's the under-ask? Oh, and how many drinks can you have at a work function? It was all really trial and error.
Why do you target young women as your audience?
"There is this huge hole in career literature for savvy, young career girls. What Color is Your Parachute is good, but at the end of the day your career isn't just about writing a resume; it's a very soft-skilled experience.
So often women, especially young women, try to make everyone like us, we try to be totally amenable, try to focus on everyone else's needs, and we end up offering to do work that isn't ours or tolerating treatment that shouldn't be tolerated.
Your book has 20 tenets or rules. If you had to pick, which one should a gal on the rise always remember?
"Treat him mean to keep him keen." First of all, 'He' is anyone you work with. He's your manager, your assistant, your client. He's your vendor-and he can even be a she. Now this is the rule that's the most controversial. I get the most pushback from women on it. But it's a classic dating principal: If you are easy, if you'll do anything without ever asking for anything back, if you want everyone to like you and are always the "nice girl"-you are going to get walked all over.
"If you're ever going to get anywhere, especially as you start to move forward in your career, you can't always be nice. Eventually you're going to have to make a decision that not everybody agrees with. You are going to have to hold somebody accountable, and you are going to have to stand up for yourself when somebody steals your idea.
How important is it for employers to really value their employees?
"As a manager who often works with young women, I have to constantly challenge myself on how do I harness this bursting young talent. For example, right now I'm on the road with a 24-year-old assistant who thinks it is amazing that for the next 41 days we're visiting 25 cities. For her, it's a fantastic experience. For me, it's a grind.
"It's important to make the most of young talent. I learned that my assistant needs to understand a task or project from start to finish. It's much more effective than asking her to photocopy a stack of papers with no explanation at all. If she understands where those papers might end up and what they could mean, she will gladly devote more energy into getting it done right. A manager who says to an employee, "copy those papers because I told you so," might see results that are not so positive.
"Which isn't to say that there aren't situations when I told you so is 1000 per cent necessary. Let's be honest-as both a boss and a woman, sometimes I told you so is the only way to get things done.
More stories: Executive Women.